Avalanche warnings high in wet snow

4th January 2015, by Abi Butcher

The Espace Killy issued an avalanche warning after slides were triggered on Friday

The Espace Killy issued an avalanche warning after slides were triggered on Friday

As wet snow falls in many Alpine areas, the Swiss Avalanche Institute has issued a warning of considerable danger of dry and wet avalanches over a wide area.

“As a result of mild temperatures together with recent rainfall, the snow cover has moistened all the way up to high altitudes of approximately 2200m, on south facing slopes higher still. Recent layers of fresh snow has fallen on top of an old snowpack which is full of sugary, crusted layers where avalanches can easily be triggered,” reads today’s warning.

“On the northern flank of the Alps in particular, the snowpack on steep, grass-covered slopes at intermediate and low altitudes is sliding in bulk across the ground — a tendency that will now be enhanced still further by the rainfall. The snow cover on the southern flank of the Swiss Alps is structured more favourably.”

Slides have been triggered not just in Switzerland but across the Alps. On Friday (2 January) the Espace Killy ski area, which covers Tignes and Val d’Isère in France, issued a warning about the “extreme fragility” of the snowpack after several skier-triggered avalanches in the region.

The same day, a huge rescue operation was scrambled in Austria when 12 skiers were caught in an avalanche several hundred meters long and wide on the Mölltaler Glacier. Several helicopters, police, fire department and mountain rescue workers were scrambled to the site where one person was completely buried and eleven others partially buried. All were rescued alive — but the slide was triggered by two of the group.

“The snow seems to vary from day to day, as temperatures rise and fall. We’re finding all sorts of different conditions at the surface of the snowpack,” says Henry Schniewind of Henry’s Avalanche Talk. “We are far from having a stabilised snowpack, despite some compaction and improved cohesion due to warmer temperatures and sunshine.”

His tip to skiers and snowboarders venturing off piste: “Be very careful around (or avoid) any steep slopes with accumulations from recent snowfalls.”

Visit Meteo France for avalanche report specific to resorts in France; and the Swiss Avalanche Institute for the news on ski resorts in Switzerland.


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